Posted on 18. December 2014
Youth employment being a top priority has been a constant in the European leaders’ discourse; Europe’s future depends on the skills, creativity and energy of our young people, they all say repeatedly. Unfortunately, youth unemployment levels are at a worryingly high level, especially in the South of Europe.
In order to boost growth, competitiveness, and employment in Europe, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker presented an investment package worth €315 billion, which is expected to be approved by EU leaders during the Council Summit scheduled for 18-19 December. In the next three years, Juncker plans to channel investments into viable projects with a real added value for Europe’s social market economy. I’d argue that alongside its approval, the Council should underline the need for funds to be allocated to projects that contribute to a sustainable economy with stable job opportunities for young people entering the labour market.
In order to accomplish this, the Commission should link together different perspectives; of the business sector as well as of the ‘Millennials’ – the generation that grew up with the proliferation of the internet economy – on EU Innovation policy. I believe Europe`s socio-economic challenges can largely be met through social innovation, a set of ideas and practices aimed at alleviating the social needs of a community in terms of health, working conditions, education and social cohesion. It is paramount that young people are engaged in this process.
This focus on social innovations corresponds with the Millennials’ own preferences. In choosing their work environment, young people often take into consideration social factors, the sustainability policies and the accountability of their potential future employer. This position was confirmed by the ‘Youth Employment Task Force, a multi-stakeholder conference hosted by the European Policy Centre, which concluded that good practice examples of youth employment initiatives have one thing in common: they provide platforms for young people to engage in, guided by their own values and their desire to have an impact; they want to know that they are making a difference.
Besides social innovation, the Commission’s Investment Package should include funds for projects that encourage young people to take on a more leading role in the area of technological innovation, an element that has already been highlighted in the Knowledge, Innovation and Digital Economy chapter of the Investment Package. This means using the opportunities created through combining, for instance, social goals with IT applications.
Additionally, based on the positive examples of the Swansea Employment Academy in Wales and the Apprenticeship Programme of Nestlé, young people would like to see similar initiatives that develop the entrepreneurial spirit and social responsibility at an earlier age. These should be included under the Social Infrastructure part of the Investment Package, which now has a strong focus on the digitalisation of education.
Finally, the investments in the social economy in the framework of the Investment Package can function as a growing platform that has the capacity to create favourable conditions for facilitating self-employment opportunities for young people.
Young people in Europe have been disappointed by the inefficient measures in the fight against youth unemployment and the lack of understanding of their needs and wishes. Keeping in mind the socio-economic challenges young Europeans are already facing on a daily basis, this carries the risk of them becoming completely alienated from the European Union and its political environment.
Some have named this Investment Package the ‘last chance’ for Europe. But for young people it can be a ‘new hope’, if the package will encourage a friendly climate for social and innovative entrepreneurship by the young. This requires a careful consideration of which sectors to invest in, while taking into account young people’s own desires, expectations and ideas. In doing so, this ’last chance’ Commission could succeed in regaining their trust, putting Europe back on the path towards sustainable growth.